Friday, April 30, 2010

last post genres

Before there was Poe, before Stephen King, there was Shakespeare.? Usually Shakespeare does not get associated with these two figures but maybe he should. Throughout the semester we talked about Shakespeare's use of genre and the characteristics associated with each genre. He wrote dramas, comedies and histories; he is not known for writing Gothic or horror. Of course these genres weren't prevalent when Shakespeare wrote. In the play Macbeth, Shakespeare has some elements of the gothic and horror genres. Horror fiction is derived from the gothic fiction of the 18th century; but where does the gothic fiction have its roots in? Now I am not saying that Shakespeare is responsible for the development of this genre, I'm simply saying that his play Macbeth contains elements that pre-dateItalic this genre.

Gothic fiction's characteristics include the use of the supernatural, ghosts, hauntings, madness, and death. The play Macbeth contains all of these elements. Although witches are not new characters in literature during Shakespeare's time, they are key to the plot of the play. Their prophecies lead to Macbeth taking murderous actions leading to his and Lady Macbeth's descent into madness. These elements begin to come into play right after the murder of Duncan. Macbeth tells his wife "Methought I heard a voice cry 'Sleep no more,/ Macbeth does murder sleep" (2.2, 34-35). In addition to hearing voices in this scene, Macbeth and his wife also hear mysterious "knocking within"(2.2, stage directions). This scene seems to have found its way into every horror movie. The effects of the voices and knocking remains the same across eras; this builds suspense, a mustItalic in all horror movies. This scene with the knocking and voices also remind me of Poe's The Raven where the protangonist hears knocking or tapping on his door and does not know what it is right away. Did Poe get this idea from this scene in Shakespeare? We will never know, but it does show Shakespeare probably could of wrote horror or gothic fiction in addition to the genres he worked in.

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth's decent into madness of course continues as the play unfolds. It reaches its climax for Macbeth when he sees Banquo's ghost at the dinner party they are hosting in 3.4. In the scene, Macbeth is extemely freightened and talks outloud to the ghost, leaving all the guests in shock. Lady Macbeth reaches the climax of her madness when she begins to sleepwalk and talk. Obviously all these fit into the gothic/horror genre. The play's ending also conforms to this genre ending in suicide and murder. Of course Shakespeare is known for having his tragedies end with everyone killing each other and commiting suicide.

I would like to see a horror movie version of Macbeth to come out. The movie would cut out many of the minor characters and would have less emphasis on the country's differences and heir to the throne plot. The emphasis would be on Macbeth and Lady Macbeth's descent to madness. The trailor voice over may sound like: "Macbeth's ambition got him to the throne, but he had to murder the current king to get there. Realizing his best friend Banquo was a threat to his crown, Macbeth also had him murdered. Now being haunted by Banquo's ghost and fighting off madness, Macbeth attempts to fight fate and hold onto his crown." Obviously I'm not a writer but I think the movie could do well at the box office if it contained big names and promoed correctly. I would go see it.

Note: I consulted Wikepedia to refresh myself on gothic literature and Poe.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

To Get Us in the Spirit...

Happy Lear

So after finishing Lear I can confidently say this play defines what I see as tragedy. I can't say I'm totally surprised but there definitely is an element of surprise delivered by Shakespeare. I knew it would be too good to be true to have a happy ending in which everything turned out pleasantly but I didn't envision Shakespeare bringing the tragic element quite as far as he actually did within King Lear.

I did expect the villains of the play to be killed as is the case in several other of Shakespeare's plays. However, the death of Cordelia definitely shocked me as most others reading the play. It almost seemed as though the death of Cordelia and the rest of the family was almost a cop out on Shakespeare's part. Almost as if he wasn't quite sure what direction to go so to be dramatic just killed everyone off in the final act leading to the rather confusing conclusion.

Because of this ending I was pleased to hear of Nahum Tate's "Happy Lear" in which the King of France and the Fool are omitted while Lear is restored to his Kingship and Cordelia and Edgar are married at the play's conclusion. This effectively turns the tragedy into a romance. At first this seemed good to me considering the morbid ending. However, after looking back on Shakespeare's Lear over the past several days, I just can't envision Tate's Lear. I cannot see Lear performed as a love story. The omission of The Fool specifically bothered me as I felt as though the charachter of King Lear would not have adequate development without The Fool there to show Lear's weaknesses and flaws. Also, Tate's Lear is too far on the opposite end of the spectrum as Shakespeare's. I would prefer the play left as a tragedy however I would like to see Lear's daughter's survive and possibly avenge the death of their father or some other scenario which leaves the play with a tragic ending while keeping a tinge redemption rather than the massacre left at the end by Shakespeare.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


I am not your host, Pat Sajak, and I am not talking about the pop culture game show that you may be familiar with; however, the wheel of fortune plays a key role in King Lear. The wheel of fortune that I am alluding to refers to the concept of one’s own fate. The Goddess Fortuna is supposedly the deity that controls the wheel of fortune. In other words, she controls people lives to some extent, by either leading them to successes or having them fail. Most times, the wheel of fortune is seen as relating to those who hold political power and control. Often, one begins at the bottom of the wheel of fortune and gradually rises to the top while gaining more power. With that said, once the reach the top, they tumble back down the wheel and end up where they first began. Legend has it that the Goddess Fortuna is figure that oversees such a cycle. It is significant to note that it is a woman figure that controls this wheel. This hints that woman have much control over the lives of men, and gives a feminine take on something that mostly refers to masculinity or a more masculine role.

In King Lear, Edmund states, “The wheel has come full circle” (5.3.173). In this line, he is referring to himself, and his own rise and fall of power. During the beginning of the play, Edmund refers to himself as a “Bastard.” Here, he is illustrating himself as a character that is at the bottom of the wheel of fortune. Throughout the play, Edmund gains confidence and rises to the top of the wheel with his power gain. Towards the conclusion of King Lear, we see Edmund’s downward spiral back to the bottom of the wheel of fortune. If one believes in the legend that the Goddess Fortuna controls the wheel, then one might see Edmund’s circular journey of the wheel as being controlled by Fortuna herself. In a sense, he has lost all control in his life, and his life was in the hands of a greater being then himself.

This leads us to the question of fate. Does fate exist? Are we powerless to our own fate? Despite drive and the way we live our lives, will we inevitably succumb to fate itself? Then this leads us to further questions like: Even is possible, should we overcome fate? Or is fate what is meant to happen? All of these questions are essential to ask when considering King Lear, the wheel of fortune, and fate.

Everybody is dead.

The finale of King Lear leads to a not-so-surprisingly morbid conclusion- Just about everyone dies. That seems pretty par for the course for Shakespeare, who likes to knock off characters left and right. Just when we think that we’re about to get a happy ending where the good guys can skip off into the sunset with the promise of a new tomorrow, good old Shakespeare brings in his literary machete to cut down a few more good souls and yank some tears from the audience. But why does he do this? What's the moral?

I think we can all deal with the “villains” of the play being killed, but why does Shakespeare choose to kill off Cordelia, or the heartbroken and insane Lear? The main plot of the story, the struggle between Lear and his daughters, as well as the subsequent battle for control of his kingdom, ends on a rather confusing note. The King is dead, as are the complete trio of his daughters, and not just the wicked ones who we’ve been waiting to see die for five acts, but the honest, pure Cordelia as well. The future is unclear; Albany, Edgar and Kent are understood to be taking over the government, but it’s difficult to put much thought into the future of the kingdom when the reader is still recovering from the sudden murder party that just took place.

Shakespeare’s choices in the final act of the play may seem random or unnecessary at first, but it is easy to see how the tragic end fits in with the common themes throughout the play of hopelessness and false justice. In King Lear, there is no good versus evil, at least not one in which there is a clear, triumphant winner, a champion who rides home to the parade and fanfare fit for the victor. Gloucester cries out in 4.1.37-38 “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; They kill us for sport.” A dark thought to consider, but the death and bloodshed that consumes the play can’t be chalked up to much more than chaos. Characters betray each other, only to be betrayed by others. Goneril and Regan give false affection to their father so as to usurp command of his empire only to end up killing each other over a common lover. The final battle scene leaves the vast majority of important characters in the plot dead and the kingdom in shambles.

Does Shakespeare implement justice into King Lear? Or is the lack of justice the very point of the tragedy? Shakespeare seems to be implying that not everything happens so as to fit into a grand battle of light and dark, good and evil, but rather sometimes things happen for no reason but the jealousy and greed inherent in people. It could be said that justice killed the two wicked sisters, but what of King Lear or Gloucester, both of whom sought to repent for their way, only finding truth in their failures (Lear in his madness comes to face what he has done to Cordelia, whereas Gloucester only comes to regret his treatment of Edgar after being led blind by his illegitimate son), and what of Cordelia, who had done wrong to nobody?

To me, this is the most tragic of Shakespeare’s plays simply for the fact that there is no true moral here, no governing theory to the madness that overtakes Lear’s empire. There is no God in King Lear to seek guidance from, or to fight in the name of. There are only foolish, jealous people, and Shakespeare shows us the terrors that fools can lead us to.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Death as a Surprise

Though this seems to be a recurring theme for most of the blog posts today, I really feel I need to say that I did not fully expect that ending for King Lear. I'd become accustomed to viewing history plays as a mixture of comedy and tragedy, and even though King Lear has been referred to as a tragedy as well as a history, I still wasn't expecting the usual tragic sort of ending where almost everyone important dies. I was expecting a lot of death, of course, even on the part of King Lear, who just seemed (to me at least) to have reached his breaking point, and wouldn't be long for this world. Goneril and Regan probably had to die as well, as conspirators and traitors, not only to the crown but to their family ties, and no villain such as these can have anything but a messy ending in Shakespeare. Gloucester's death was a tad more surprising, but not by much, considering how much he'd been going on and on about how life wasn't worth living, trying to kill himself, and asking Edgar to 'please leave him alone so he can DIE now'.

The death that really struck a heavy blow for me was that of Cordelia. She was the purity of the play, the redeeming angel come back to rescue her father from the villainy of her two sisters, redeeming her own bloodline in the process. Moreover, she was the Queen of France, a woman of power independent of her father's. Her death truly shocked me--she seemed too strong to be laid up and cut off like a sacrificial lamb. Yes, her faith and purity fit the part, but she had a strength of character that didn't lend itself to that sort of sacrificial image--the pure virgin, the vision of innocent charity--when she had a kingdom, a husband, and a power all her own. And she does not even get to die swiftly: there's a whole segment of that final scene in which the King, now going mad, swings back and forth between wailing that she's dead, and frantically discovering that she yet lives, if only someone could heal her. At the end of the play, I wasn't even 100% sure she was dead--was Lear imagining the signs of life, or the signs of death? Either seemed entirely possible. But they both fade away, leaving us with Kent and Edgar, and so I was forced to conclude that she was, either from the beginning or just now, deceased.

Still, that ending scene gives me pause, and makes me wonder what her true significance in the play was. Has her death truly redeemed anything? Is there enough even left of the kingdom or bloodline to be redeemed in the first place? Or is it simply meant to strike you as senseless, a last stab of Edmund's at a world that he sees as always out to get him? Is it only to lend to the tragic sense of the final act, or is there more to it than that? I don't believe I'll be getting answers to these questions, at least, anytime soon.

Identity and Nature in King Lear

After finishing King Lear, I’m sort of sad that so many of the characters were killed. Not only were the “bad guys” killed off, but others like Gloucester, Cordelia, and Lear. Not only were they killed, but both Gloucester and Lear died in moments that could have potentially been a happy time for them. Gloucester dies when Edgar reveals himself, and Lear dies when he thinks Cordelia might be beginning to breathe again. Despite being depressing, I thought that these events added to our discussion on the play supporting nihilism. Perhaps as readers we are supposed to look at the deaths of these characters and use it to propel a questioning of our own lives, and observe them to see if there actually is any meaning to them.

Something else I still find to be interesting after finishing the play is Lear’s regression or descent from King to an almost non-human being. I liked that when Lear gave his daughters his kingdom to rule, that he was basically removing himself from the position of king, and thus, a position of authority. I think we talked in class about how Lear was able to regain power over himself/his life through this regression to a more animalistic way of living. He removes the clothes which helped create his identity of a king, and formulates his own natural identity based on his connection to nature. The idea of natural also relates to Edmund, who is “natural” born, or illegitimate. Because of this Edmund is unable to get the position of power that he longs for, and has to resort to other, more shady ways of getting it.

Cordelia's Senseless End

As I neared the end of King Lear, I couldn’t help but notice that this play has been without a doubt the most dramatic, bleak and horribly gruesome of Shakespeare’s works that I have read thus far. Beginning with the scene in which Gloucester’s eyes are plucked out and stomped on by Regan and Cornwall and ending with the death of nearly every major character, King Lear is a play that ends on quite a depressing note. Though we are given a small amount of retribution with Albany and Edgar living past the end and reassuming their titles, part of me feels as though a few of the events at the end were a bit unnecessarily harsh, particular Cordelia’s death.

At the end of Act Four, when Cordelia returns to the forefront with her easy forgiveness of her father’s banishment, I honestly thought she might survive to the end despite my knowledge of many of Shakespeare’s tragedies. I couldn’t think of a reason why she would need to die, or how her death would somehow rebalance the outcome; and this being my first exposure to Lear, I thought my prediction was decently sound. Shakespeare even makes an effort to reaffirm Cordelia’s legitimacy by contrasting her treatment of her delirious father with how Regan and Goneril had previously addressed him: “Will’t please your highness to walk?” With just a simple phrase, she shows her father the respect her siblings have been denying him all along, and she does this regardless of how her father completely disregarded her. As a character, she is entirely grounded, and despite her ordeal, her priorities remain intact.

Even the way in which Cordelia is killed seems senseless to me. Following the scene in Act Three, one would think that Shakespeare would have little issue in staging another death, instead, Cordelia’s death occurs completely off-screen, as Edmund had ordered her hanged and his messenger was unable to stop the execution in time. By killing off such an inherently innocent character, I would think Shakespeare would want her death to be dramatic and obvious. Thankfully, we are at least given the moment where Lear walks on stage with his daughter in his arms, completely heartbroken and desperate for a glass to see if she breathes. I think the moment that was by far the most frustrating to me occurs right before Lear’s not-so-shocking death, in which he thinks that his daughter might still be alive: “Do you see this? Look on her, look, her lips, look there, look there!” For a moment, I thought she would breathe and survive, but she doesn’t, and I’m left feeling that her death was completely in vain.

too little, too late

Edmund is an interesting character throughout the entire play. We first meet him when he is in the beginning stages of deceiving everyone in the play into believing that he deserves the heir to his father’s thrown although he is an illegitimate candidate for this heir.

The first words we hear out of Edmund’s mouth is, Thou, nature, art my goddess. To thy law

“My services are bound. Wherefore should I
Stand in the plague of custom and permit
The curiosity of nations to deprive me
For that I am some twelve or fourteen moonshines
Lag of a brother? Why “bastard”? Wherefore “base”?” (1.2.1-5)

Edmund feels as though he should receive the same, if not more than his brother, because they are only a few months different in age. Although his jealousy makes sense, it is no reason to not only go against his family, but have them basically killed. Although he is a bastard child, he thinks he deserves the same as his brother. Because of Edmund’s fake letter, Gloucester banishes his son Edgar from the land because Edmund sets up a scene where Gloucester thinks that Edgar has been dishonest. Later, Edmund sets up Gloucester as well, and gets him banished. Basically Edmund goes against his entire family, all for power and land. So, finally, Edmund has full control of Gloucester’s heir and land.

As a subplot, I found this story to be really interesting. So much deceit and dishonesty existed. I found the end of the play to be extraordinary. To me it shows that Karma is true. After all of the hurt that Edmund created, finally the power is put into Edgar’s hands and Edmund dies. But what I found interesting was Edmund’s final attempt to redeem all the bad he has caused. He heard that his father had died and he is in the position to be killed by his brother, he tries to stop Cordelia and Lear from being killed. Before the power shifted, Edmund was going to kill them, but now he feels remorse and sorrow and tries to stop it. But in my opinion it is too little too late. He already has caused so much trouble, making anything right at this point is just to help himself rest in peace, which I think he does not deserve. Edmund deserves all the anguish he feels because he caused so much pain himself. In Edmund’s own words, “the wheel has come full circle.” He caused pain, and now he receives pain. He wanted the power to be taken from Edgar, when now it is being taken from him. He suffers because of the actions he took.

The Life and Death of the Love Triangle

When reading the final few acts of “King Lear” what really struck me was the soap-opera-like love triangle of Edmund, Goneril and Regan. This triangle was so interesting and intriguing for many reasons and drove a lot of the action in the final moments of this play. Initially, I began by questioning Edmund’s intentions or motives for involving himself with these two women. There is the obvious reason, that he is simply a “womanizer,” but I really began to see him more as an opportunist/ business man. In order to further his career (to become King) he had to be romantically involved with either Goneril or Regan. Instead of just picking one of the women, Edmund, the smart man that he is, chose to involve himself with both. I think that this was a smart move on Edmund’s part because it pretty much guaranteed him a decent shot at becoming King.

The way that Edmund was able to manipulate and effectively make these two sisters fall in love with him was astonishing to me. For example in 5:1 when Edmund and Regan are talking, I had a really difficult time coming to any strict conclusion about which sister he preferred more, if any was the case. Also interesting was that Edmund does not explicitly deny that he slept with Goneril, when Regan asks him, yet Regan is still completely infatuated with him. I think Edmund’s ability to talk in a way in which he shows no preference to either sister speaks to his greater ability to manipulate pretty much EVERYONE that surrounds him. Edmund may not be the King of England, but I sure would consider him the King of manipulation. He is able to succeed in turning two sisters against one another and ultimately leads these two sisters to a tragic end.

The literal death of this love triangle occurs in the final act of the play. I think that the fact that Goneril killed herself but only after poisoning Regan truly shows the immense power that Edmund wielded over these two. I think Goneril killed Regan out of an act of extreme love for Edmund because she wanted to insure that Regan could never be with Edmund if she herself couldn’t be with him. Edmund even addresses this in 5.3:238-240 when he says “Yet Edmund was beloved. / The one the other poisoned for my sake, / And after slew herself.” This line is very interesting because Edmund puts the emphasis on “for my sake,” it shows that he himself really understood the power the he had over these two women.

The final display of Edmund’s power over these two women really left me thinking about what if everything Edmund wanted played out according to plan? What if Edmund became King? What would have happened to these two sisters? Although it’s quite an intriguing scenario I really don’t have a definitive answer. Part of me thinks it would have ended the same way that “King Lear” ended to begin with; with everyone dying. I think that because it was such a tangled web that Edmund weaved the only way that any of these characters would be able to escape was through death.

King Lear

After finishing King Lear I can honestly say that I didn’t expect the play to end the way that it did. Truthfully, as with many of Shakespeare’s plays, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I certainly didn’t expect so many deaths. I assumed earlier in the play that Lear would eventually die, especially because his sanity was obviously degrading throughout the play, but I didn’t expect him to simply drop dead from what can only be defined as shock.

I was also shocked that Cordelia was hanged; I had assumed that if one person were surely going to make it through the play, it would be Cordelia, because she was clearly one of the better characters of the play. When the deaths of Regan and Goneril were announced, however, I was neither shocked or upset and felt that they got what they deserved.

One of the things that bothered me during Act five was how quickly the battle was presented in 5.2. Obviously, Shakespeare didn’t want to spend much time on this and wanted to get to the end of the play, which is fine, but I felt it was almost comical how quickly it was portrayed. The directions have Edgar run off stage and then almost immediately run back on. I think a small aside from Gloucester would have worked well here and wouldn’t have made the battle seem so rushed.

Finally, I was also slightly confused as to who became the King at the end of the play. We never see anyone crowned and, unless I missed it, no one said that they would become King. All we know for sure is that Kent declines the position. Are we to assume that because Edgar doesn’t decline it, he has accepted the position? Personally, I’m a little surprised that Shakespeare didn’t include a crowning ceremony at the end of this play as he has done at the end of others, but I suppose that would’ve taken away from the tragic ending of the play.

All of a Sudden, I Love You

I love Shakespeare's tragedies. They're pretty good at setting up a finale that looks like everything will work out and then the ultimate blows are dealt and everyone is left crying. King Lear is probably the best example, with Goneril and Regan killing each other, Edmund being killed by his noble brother, and Lear and Cordelia being reunited. You want to believe that Cordelia will take car of her father and rule the land (and rule the land she does, in the original version of the legend. Shakespeare loves his unhappy endings, I suppose), but instead she is killed, leaving Lear to die of madness and a broken heart. This kind of reminds my of Othello, except Desdemona was already dead when Iago was (finally!) exposed.

What I love about the ending of Lear is what happens between Lear and Cordelia. Lear at this point is completely bonkers, but he is still able to recognize Cordelia for who she is: the pure, noble daughter. Or, does he? If the tearing of the clothes and the flower crown are any indication, Lear has just given up on sanity. Broken and destitute, he accepts the help from Cordelia and rests at France's camp. Is it just because she's a nice lady and looks like Cordelia? I think the text indicates that he does recognize her (stating "I think this lady to be my child Cordelia") but he still has issue with her ("I know you do not love me"). So, the first meeting indicates that Lear recognizes Cordelia, but his insanity keeps him from forgiving.

Jump to the end of the play: Lear and Cordelia are captured, prompting Lear to wish nothing more than to be with his daughter and "kneel down, and ask of thee [Cordelia] forgiveness." It seems that the insanity of war snaps Lear out of it, if only temporarily. After Cordelia is killed, Lear only sees the possibility of her still being alive. Kent tries to reveal himself to Lear, but Lear's babbling prompts Albany to state "He knows not what he says: and vain it is that we present us to him." I think that line is the key to the entire play. From the very beginning, it was completely vain to speak up to Lear, reason with Lear, bring Lear to different places, get Lear to recognize someone, and really get Lear to do anything. He threw his "love" around like he was throwing M&Ms, causing both Kent (or Caius) and Cordelia (in the final act) quite a bit of trouble. Cordelia, especially, is a good example of this insanity: after everything that happened in the play and Lear's unwillingness to forgive, all of a sudden, he loves Cordelia again. It's not because of everything Goneril and Regan did, it's because he thinks he recognizes her in his insane cloud. Only after Cordelia dies does Lear feel true sadness, and even then he is completely bat crazy.

I want to believe Lear knows as soon as he wakes up that Cordelia is there for him and loves him deeply. But, there is so much build up in the heath that I have to see the dramatic reunion as dramatic for Cordelia, and confusing for Lear. Death reveals all, and for Lear, Cordelia had to die so he could realize her purity. I suppose that's tragedy for ya.

-Sarah Bras

King Lear

I have read King Lear before, and remember enjoying it. This is the second time I am reading King Lear and am remembering it quite well. Since this is the first time I am blogging about this play, I wanted to start at the beginning; where each of the daughters are supposed to "confess" their undying love for their father. I feel that it was fair and necessary to divide the land up evenly among his daughters, however I feel that it was just stupid and silly for him to see who "loves him more". Not for nothing, I feel that is so stupid. "I will give you something you want, but you must tell me how much you love me first" ?? Of course, if someone asked me that, I would just tell them what they wanted to hear (if I didn't like them all that much).
I feel that obviously, Cordelia was the only truthful one in this situation, and King Lear just overlooked it as an insult. I feel that that was incredibly stupid. I also feel that the idea of language and love, and nothing are very apparent within this play. To King Lear, obviously, love has to do with language and making sure the more you talk and boast, the more love you have for something/someone. Whereas in Cordelia's case, she spoke of nothing and had the most love for her father and he believed that it wasn't enough and took it as an insult that she couldn't speak of all the ways she loved him as a father. Cordelia spoke of nothing and he thought that that meant she didn't love him at all. I feel that was selfish and blind by King Lear.

Another thought I had about this play was the mention of Scene 3, Act 4. Where King Lear wants to be a beggar like Tom the poor man. "Worm no silk, beast no hide, sheep no wool, cat no perfume". Where he begins to strip down his clothes, I feel that it was a way of him gaining his independence. King Lear, at this moment, doesn't want to have to rely on animal-made products. I feel that he is stating a point here, that he wants to be freed of the things that he relies on to make him who he is. I feel that this was a very important part in the play.

Did Edmund Come Around?

I have always been drawn to the points in stories, plays, etc where things come full circle, so of course I was drawn to Edmund's line in King Lear when he says "The wheel is come full circle! I am here"(5.3.17). According to our Shakespeare text, this is referring to fortune's wheel. Has Edmund gotten to where he wanted to be? This is also where it seems as though Albany, possibly Edmund, and Edgar forgive each other. I guess in a way, things did come full circle, but I can't help but notice how everyone (Goneril, Regan, Cordelia, and Lear) is dying. I guess in a way, fortune came back to bite them in the butt. As I finished the play, I began to look at the characters, specifically Edmund, too see if their lives or experiences had really come full circle. I believe that Edmund's life did come full circle. He started out as the bastard child and well, ended that way too in that they pretty much ignore his death and do not give him any recognition.
In Act 1 Scene 2, Edmund says "Wherefore should I / Stand in the plague of customs and permit / The curiosity of nations to deprive me / For that I am some twelve or fourteen moonshines / Lag of a brother?"(1.2.2-6). Edmund wants something physical, like land ("Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land"(1.2.17)). I think he also wants recognition. He does not want to be seen as the bastard or lowlife son of Gloucester. He wants to be seen as the legitimate one. He wants to be recognized as that. Edmund wants what has been denied to him all his life. I know he goes on to attempt to get what he wants, but I feel like he just goes right back to bastard status.
In Act 5 Scene 3, when Albany hears that Edmund has died, he simply says "That's a trifle here"(5.3.309). Compared to everything else that's going on, Edmund's death is nothing important. It made me wonder, if he was not a bastard, would they have cared a little bit more? Or is it just because to many other characters have died / are dying? They've simply thrown Edmund to the side. I doubt he would have been very happy with that if he had been alive. He probably would have said the same things that he said in the beginning of the play about wanting recognition and wanting to be above his legitimate brother. He gets no recognition as he dies which is why I feel like he's gone back to where he started.

Friday, April 23, 2010


Thanks Brooke for that awesome looking and delicious cake for breakfast!!!

Brooke is great,
gives us Globe Theater cake!!!

Shouldn't family come first?

As I’ve been reading King Lear, I really have come to despise the characters of Goneril and Regan. Not only do they take the power their father has prematurely given them and abuse it, but then they begin to turn their backs on each other. I have never read King Lear before, and even though it was listed as a tragedy, I still had a bit of hope. I really was hoping that Goneril and Regan would realize their abuse of power, and find their father and take care of him in his elderly age the right way. Maybe Lear’s request to house one hundred knights was a bit over the top, but he is still their father. Without him, they wouldn’t have any power at all, and therefore should be more grateful for him. When both of them kicked Lear out of their houses in the early acts in the play, I was a bit upset by their actions, but like I said before, still help hope that they would make a change.

I never would of thought that these two daughters would fight over a man like they did in the final scene of the play. I find act five, scene three to be the most puzzling. When they begin to argue about who gave Edmund his military power, and bicker back and forth, I found myself asking “are these two serious?” Edmund, the man they are fighting over, has just sent their father and sister off to be killed in prison and all they can think about is who they will be romantically involved with next? I just don’t understand what these two characters are thinking, and their attitudes about their father make my stomach turn. This may be because I have such a strong connection with my family, and no matter what they have done, I would never turn my backs on them.

I may be stewing over something very small, but I just feel like these daughters are portrayed to be evil, unlike their sister, Cordelia who appears to be more of a saint figure. Cordelia is the only one willing to take care of her father, as a child should do. Since women are often marginalized in Shakespeare’s plays, I guess it would be to much to have three women characters who are angels, but I believe that Goneril and Regan were by far the cruelest characters in the play. Even their deaths at were for an unjust reason. They died fighting over a man would wanted to do nothing but kill their father and sister and that is something that I can just not fathom.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cordelia and the Fool

I found it peculiar that the Cordelia disappears in Act I of the play, only to return in Act IV, while the Fool appears in Act II and III, and disappears once Cordelia returns. Simple coincidence? Maybe yes, maybe no.

When I first read Lear for English Lit. I, I was upset when the Fool disappeared in Act III because, for notable reasons, he was my favorite character. When I realized that the Fool and Cordelia were only in an act if the other was absent, I thought it was interesting so I researched it. I found that it is thought that during Shakespeare's time the actor who played Cordelia also played the Fool, so there's a more literal parallel. Also, the ending, when Lear says, "And my poor fool is hanged," (5.3, ln. 304) he is holding dead Cordelia in his arms; when the Fool departs from the play for good in Act 3.6, he says "And I'll go to bed at noon." (3.6, ln. 78). The Fool's line, metaphorically, could be saying that he'll take his life at noon, before the downfall, presumably, of King Lear. When Lear refers to Cordelia as a "fool", the footnote suggests that is relates to the Fool's disappearance in 3.6. I believe the Fool and Cordelia represent the faults of Lear throughout the play.

When the Fool leaves us in 3.6, he portrays a half-jokingly, resigned persona that deems Lear as almost hopeless. I see the Fool as another side of Cordelia, as the Fool delivers the more sarcastic, yet realistic lines to the King to remind him of his fault. When we see Lear next (without his Fool) he has gone completely mad. Without Cordelia or the Fool in his life, he has lost all hopelessness, and even though the Fool was constantly criticizing Lear when in his presence, it's almost as if King Lear had a dependency on the Fool, and when he left that's when his insanity ensued.

Also, being that both the Fool and Cordelia are the two characters who represent "truth", it could be said that their deaths add to the theme of hopelessness and despair that this tragedy projects. When they die, as does truth, and as the Fool's disappears, it seems to foreshadow to Lear that he is too late: by the time he realizes the truth, Cordelia is dead.

Albany, Tellin' It Like It Is

If you ask me, Regan is more horrific than her sister--just because she witnesses and endorses the eye-gouging in Act III and has the audacity to suggest Gloucester smell his way to Dover--but Goneril is pretty awful too. By virtue of being the eldest of Lear's daughters, it stands to reason that Regan takes cues from her. (We see in 2.4 how they collaborate to strip Lear of his train. It's as if they feed on each other's nastiness in snowballing the matter.) But I wanted to take a look at what Albany has to say about his beloved wife in 4.2, as the language is particularly graphic and condemning.

Allow me to preface this reading with two thumbs up for Albany, who defies his "monster" of a mistress though she bests him as a soldier (4.5.5). He is the only character who has changed allegiances thus far, the only one who as opted for action over passivity. If Goneril and Regan are "unnatural" for all but disowning their feminine sides--that is, their innate desire to nurture and keep the peace--then Albany is "natural" for performing the more masculine function of maintaining order by at least giving Goneril a piece of his mind and refusing to fight her battle against Lear and his French allies. I hope he doesn't die in Act V.

"O Goneril!...I fear your disposition," Albany cries upon accosting his wife (4.2.30-2). "Disposition" here is a particularly apt pun, denoting mood, physical condition, and displacement, according to the OED. This one statement, therefore, foreshadows Goneril's fall from power (which we sense is inevitable; she is a villain after all) and the deterioration of her physical self (her "body," or following of soldiers). A little close reading, and we know she's going to get creamed by the French.

That nature, which contemns it origin,
Cannot be bordered certain in itself.
She that herself will sliver and disbranch
From her material sap, perforce must wither
And come to deadly use. (4.2.33-7)

The imagery here speaks to Goneril's unnaturalness as a creature that bites the hand that feeds it. Sap here, to continue to the extended tree metaphor, symbolizes blood; and material sap may be considered flesh. Disbranching, then, is dismemberment. This alludes to the gouging of Gloucester's eyes (which Goneril, admittedly, has nothing to do with) and to the dismissal of King Lear from his status as king and father. He who bestowed upon Goneril her royal blood, her life, and her legacy is cast off, but not without repercussions.

Albany continues by calling Goneril and her sister "Tigers" (41)--predatory, carnivorous--then "barbarous," "degenerate," and "vile." Perhaps this is Shakespeare demonstrating through his word choice that self-predation, a tendency to attack oneself via one's kin, is what separates man from beast or at least that which is humane from that which is barbaric. To show his humanity, Albany resists the urge to dismember her ("dislocate and tear/ They flesh and bones" (66-7)) because she is a woman in form and must therefore harbor some of that womanly essence he has been taught to respect. I think Shakespeare realizes that his female villains are all the more provoking for being so far from what we expect a woman to be by her nature.

A Fool's Play

As King Lear continues, it becomes a theater within a theater. Both Kent and Edgar take the roles as fools in disguise when they are considered banished. They remain close to the king and protect and advise him through his process of insanity. Based on the discussion we had in last class, about the fool being the only one who can speak the truth to the king, it makes sense that Kent and Edgar would disguise themselves in such a manner as to be able to speak to the king without fear of consequence. Kent especially, who was banished for speaking the truth in his rightful position, takes on a role where he can say what he likes. Evidence of Kent and Edgar as fools is in their speech patterns. They both take on the manner of speaking that mimics the fool- in standard rhyming verse, as opposed to the prose in which they spoke before. Gloucester notices this when he is guided by Edgar, who is disguised as "poor Tom." He says, "Methinks y'ar better spoken"(4.5.10). Edgar, in speaking with his father, lapses into is previous speech patterns and nearly gives himself away. Our modern perception of a fool must be thrown aside to understand Shakespeare's fools. The wisdom that a king should have, that Lear lacks, is made up for in the fool's clever riddles and wise advice. Clothes, again, make the man. This is both in the dress of our men in guise, and then later when Lear appears strangely dressed and covered in flowers, which suggests his fall to pure insanity.
Edgar and Gloucester's relationship, as well as with Edmund and Gloucester, seem to prove the nurture argument. It is not because Edmund is the bastard child, but because of the way that his father treats him. Did anyone get a reminder of the Royal Tenenbaums? "These are my sons, Chas and Richie, and this is my adopted daughter Margo." Legitimacy and rank does not determine character in nature, but the treatment of an individual based on rank creates character. The characters of Lear's daughters are also determined by the treatment from their father- Cordelia is doted on, and thus becomes true and sweet, yet aware of her father's unfair treatment of her sisters.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sassy Gay Friend: Romeo & Juliet

Sassy Gay Friend: Hamlet

Sassy Gay Friend: Othello

Lear's Daughters

I enjoyed the production of Lear’s Daughters. I didn’t think it was trying to be controversial simply for the sake of being controversial. I thought it was trying to respond to a play that has a lot of influence over all of Western literature, yet which has some questionable depictions/ characterizations of women. I didn’t really find anything shocking about the play. This might be because I recently finished a project about rape in the Congo, where women are getting gang raped and getting AK 47s shot into their vaginas and have to walk around with feces and urine pouring down their legs and are then shunned by their husbands and other villagers, but in comparison a character having an abortion in a play just doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. How do you respond to a play that has some misogynist tendencies when you live in a world where women are so undervalued that this kind of treatment is acceptable? It could be argued that “Shakespeare” has nothing to do with anything I’ve just said, but I think that “Shakespeare” is more than just a great writer. “Shakespeare” is an institution that can be used for homogenization, for legitimating the views of whoever (and by whoever I mean people who have traditionally been in power) it is that has decided that he is unquestionably the best. (After the play some people were saying that King Lear is not only the greatest literary production of the West, but of all humanity; does this not bother anybody else?) After all, “Shakespeare,” however great he is, is nonetheless from the point of view of an English male living in the 16th century, and therefore, no matter how “ahead of his time” he was, runs the risk of being both patriarchal and imperialist. I think Lear’s daughters, with all its screaming women and barely there Kings, is a good thing for “Shakespeare” in general because it keeps it from “weigh[ing] like a nightmare on the brains of the living” – it keeps it from being oppressive and from being irrelevant. I mean, if you are not an English major or interested in storytelling in any way, why would you read Shakespeare? And how is someone in South Africa supposed to view Henry V? Would they feel patriotic after listening to his heroic speeches? I think Lear’s Daughters and other plays of the same vein (like Paula Vogel’s Desdemona) make Shakespeare matter: they breathe life into material that can sometimes seem (to me, anyway) dated and wholly unconnected to my life. I also think that academics have a tendency to turn “Shakespeare” into some kind of metanarrative on par with Christianity, and I like that the play challenges that authority.

Class & Edmund

Class & Edmund
One similarity between Richard II, Henry V, and King Lear is that they each blur the lines between the classes. In Richard II the usurped King laments the fact that he has been deposed and in King Lear the banished king begins to recognize the validity of the lower classes’ experiences, as can be seen when he says “Poor fool and knave, I have one part in my heart that’s sorry yet for thee,” at 3.2.70. Each of these leaders have lost the power they once had and are betrayed by those who had once been their subjects, their subordinates. In doing so they become enlightened, in a sense, because their range of experience is made larger. With Henry V, however, there is no actual change in his knowledge because he has already been associating with the lower classes. When he rallies his followers together by calling them a “band of brothers” and elevates the peasants rankings by telling them all those who fight with him will be nobles, it does not cause a crisis in his identity as it does with Richard (“And now know not what to call myself”) and Lear (“Yet he hath ever but slenderly known himself). Richard and Lear’s experience of downward social mobility destroys them: neither knows how to operate unless they are king. Henry’s experimentation with it empowers him: he is the one who initiates the upward “advancement” of others (while Richard and Lear fall) and his blurring of class distinctions allows him more power while simultaneously exempting him from the consequences of having that power (“no more is the King guilty of their damnation than he was before guilty of those impieties for which they are now visited” at 4.1.162.)
The character I find most interesting in Lear is Edmund: he drives forward the entire subplot of the play through his sheer force of will, which is in contrast to Lear, who sets the events in the plot in motion, but subsequently loses all control, very unlike Edmund; his psychology seems to be a mixture of feeling inferior because he is an illegitimate child whose father has no legal obligations to him and feeling superior to all those around him because he is smarter than they are (he keeps on making fun of his father’s superstitions) and can easily manipulate them; he’s an excellent example of performativity (like Hal) in that he performs his roles of “good son” and “good brother” well; and he is very rational and practical, traits that seem to be missing from all the other characters in the play (save maybe Goneril.) What interests me most, though, is how he resembles Shakespeare’s other ‘characters of manipulation,’ the Duke in MfM and Hal in Henry IV. All three of them have a lack of power (the Duke can’t really run his dukedom efficiently and Hal is thought to be foolish) and sacrifice others (Edgar, Angelo, Hotspur &Falstaff) in order to gain in. I’m not sure how an actor would play him: I watched the Ian McKellan version of the play and was surprised at how the actor playing him delivered his speech at 1.2. In my mind he was brooding and vengeful, but the actor made him flippant, arrogant, and even playful. I’m not sure which one seems more honest to the overall tone of the play.

Monday, April 19, 2010

“It’s time to put Dad in a nursing home.”

One of the central themes in King Lear arises from the question of how people should be handled when they become elderly. Most children have to make the decision of what “to do” with parents as they age. I think King Lear, in part, examines the rights and treatment of the elderly. Particularly, this play seems to examine how the elderly, deemed inconvenient, are disposed of by their families and treated as pesky children. In 1.3, Goneril says of her father that he is an “Idle old man” for believing he has any authority to “manage” now that he has “given away” those “authorities” to Goneril and Regan. Importantly, she subsequently states that, “Old fools are babes again, and must be used / With checks and flatteries, when they are seen abused”. Goneril views her father as foolish and infant-like, and treats him as such. Despite her father’s generosity to his daughters, Goneril and Regan “throw out” and dismiss their father, emphasizing the disposed state of elderly persons in society. Moreover, Goneril’s and Regan’s treatment of their father exemplifies the tendency of treating old people as children and dismissing their mental abilities. King Lear is disregarded by his daughters largely on the premise that he, like a child, is not mentally competent. For example, when Lear goes to Regan and explains how Goneril has insulted him, Regan suggests that he, being so old, should be “ruled and led / By some discretion, that discerns your state / Better than yourself”. Thus, Regan believes her father needs to be taken care of because he is not totally in control of himself or aware of his “state”. By describing her father in this way, Regan is likening him to child. Regan then importunes her father to “return” to Goneril and “Say [he has] wronged her”. This prompts Lear to point out the unnaturalness of such a response. Lear speaks a mock dialogue to demonstrate to Regan how such a scenario would be silly because he shouldn’t have to beg his daughter for basic necessities and dignities. However, Regan reprimands him for his “unsightly tricks” and disregards what he says without consideration. At this point in the text it is very apparent that a role reversal has occurred. Whereas Lear used to be the father and Regan and Goneril his daughters, Lear is now positioned much like a child subject to the rules and caprices of his “mothers”. In part, I believe this speaks to the larger thematic idea that Lear is coming into an understanding of what it means to be a “subject” and subject to a ruler, which is gaining him insight and empathy to “common” people. However, this reversal also highlights a tendency of people to treat elderly persons as infantile which, I believe, Shakespeare is suggesting is cruel through his characterizations of Goneril and Regan. As if Lear were a child, Regan tries to teach her father a lesson stating that, “The injuries that they themselves procure / must be their schoolmasters.” Regan is implying that her father is like an unschooled boy, who must be taught the ways of the world by learning from his mistakes. By commanding her servants to “Shut up the doors,” on her father, she metaphorically positions herself as the parent who is the more wise and learned in life than her rebellious child. I think the thematic concept Shakespeare is presenting us with on the treatment of the elderly is still relevant in the context of modern day society. Frequently, elderly people are treated as “second class citizens” and there is general lack of respect and care for the elderly in American society. On the other hand, there is a debate to be had about the appropriate role of older people in society, especially as it pertains to government. For example, should the Supreme Court continue to grant Supreme Court judges life –long terms? Or does there come a point when the elderly should have to step down because they may not be mentally competent enough? This very debate arose in our recent presidential elections, when the age of presidential candidate John McCain became a liability to his campaign. While reading King Lear I was reminded of an episode from Comedy Central’s South Park, “Grey Dawn”, which explores the controversial topic of whether elderly people should be allowed to keep their driver’s licenses. The episode depicts much of the same problematic treatment of elderly people as children that we see in King Lear, while still recognizing the possibility that perhaps there are some activities which may be dangerous for elderly persons to participate in (here is the hyperlink for anyone interested: ). The show basically concludes with the ‘moral’ that the elderly should not be treated as children but with respect and gratitude for their contributions to society, while also maintaining that the elderly need to recognize when they need to “step down”. This relates to King Lear so well because Lear has essentially “stepped down” and retired although he does wish to maintain some of his power as exemplified by his desire to keep all his knights. However, Lear’s daughters display a lack of gratitude to their father which governs their villainous behavior toward him. Lear personifies ingratitude, saying “Ingratitude, thou marble-hearted fiend, / More hideous when thou show’st thee in a child / Than the sea monster!” Lear also mentions the “bond of childhood” and “dues of gratitude”. I think that Shakespeare is advocating that the elderly deserve to be treated with the utmost respect and gratitude regardless of the debate over the “proper” place of older people in society. After all, don’t children often owe a debt of gratitude to their parents? Thoughts?

Cordelia and her "youngest child" syndrome

In the first scene of King Lear, the king asks his daughters to give flowery speeches of love in order to determine who would receive the greatest share of his land. When asked what she has to say, Cordelia, his youngest, famously replies with "Nothing, my lord." She then goes on to explain that her love for him is so great that no words could do it justice, and trying to frame her feelings in flowery speech would be to mock them. This, of course, lands her in a world of trouble and sets off the action of the play.

Her reasons for not at least attempting to give a speech are hard to fathom, but I believe it comes down to this: Cordelia is the youngest child, and her two older sisters have overbearing personalities and, evidently, a gift with words. Also it is revealed soon after her rejection of his game that Cordelia is the king's favorite child, and the one he most wished to spoil with wealth and love.

Cordelia was probably used to being her father's favorite, but in this case felt from the first that she had been placed in a contest she couldn't win with the given rules. So, whether out of simple honesty, a desire to bend the rules and win in an unexpected way, or just a youngest child's spite at what seems an unfair situation, she refuses to play Lear's game. She might be condemned by audience members for her seeming petulance, and all the problems it causes, but quite apart from the necessity of setting the play in motion, she would really not be the same character if she had reacted in any other way.

Much Ado About "Nothing"... Literally

“Nothing” seems to have a lot of meaning in this play. I’ve found four ways nothing comes into play in the first act alone. Most notably, Lear expresses his desire to do nothing when he explains his plans to everyone. Second and third, both Cordelia and Edmund refer to “nothing” when questioned by their fathers. The forth ties into Edmund’s significance in the eyes of the law: Absolutely nothing.

For a monarch to say he wishes to give up his property and royal responsibility in his first speech without just cause (he appears to be healthy at this point) is way beyond unusual- It’s plain stupid. Kent in lines 144-153 of the first scene urges him to reconsider. Even after saying that he is only trying to look out for the king’s best interests a few lines later, all he gets for his pains is banishment. In the last scene of this act, the fool has much to say to Lear ranging from the semi vague “Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise” (1.5.37) to the fairly blunt
Fool: ...I can tell why a snail has a house
Lear: Why?
Fool: Why, to put his head in; not to give it away to his daughter and leave his horns without a case. (1.5.23-26)

When introduced to Lear’s game of expressing love, his oldest daughters tell him in flowery speeches how much they care about him. What does Cordelia say? “Nothing, my lord” (1.1.86). I do tip my hat off to her for refusing to flatter her father for a few reasons. First, she later defends her lack of verbal affection with the claim that she has proven her love in actions, something Kent later supports. Second, she really had no other choices. Obviously she is too honest to say anything to please Lear unlike her sisters. This left her at a huge disadvantage in the game. If her father went as far as staking his future on the outcome of a session of “who loves daddy more?”, he’s too far gone to listen to reason at this point, a device Cordelia was probably hoping would work.

Edmund piques his father’s interest in “nothing” in two ways at once. Initially when Gloucester asks about the letter he is holding, he responds with “Nothing, my lord” (1.2.31). In a sense, he’s right. He forged that letter so, at the moment, it truly is nothing of any importance. Once his father actually reads what it says, “nothing” turns into something troubling: Conspiracy. By vaguely answering his father’s questions in a way that seems to defend his step brother, he again succeeds to turn another nothing into something: Himself. Because Edmund was born to someone other than Lady Gloucester, he is automatically illegitimate in the eyes of the law. He receives no land or much respect socially if any due to this birth status. Therefor, for all intents and purposes, he is nothing at the beginning of the play. Once he plants the suggestion that Edgar, the legitimate son, is double crossing Gloucester, Edmund is beginning to become something in the eyes of his father and, if his plans go right, society by evidence of inheriting the land.

King Lear is a Baby!

While I was reading over the first act of the play, I couldn't help but notice all of the points at which I thought Lear should be in a bonnet, banging his fists on the tray-table of a high chair. The relationship between Lear and his daughters is a true case of the children parenting the parent. All of his reactions and whatnot seem so childish to me, and he is constantly being advised otherwise by the other characters in the play, especially the fool.
There are many points at which the fool reminds him of the immature decisions he has made, and at many points implies that Lear himself is a fool and then riddles his way around it. Even the fact that Lear needs to constantly be entertained by the fool just makes him even more childish. Though I know it is just part of the time for the king to have a fool, it seems like he is more present in this particular play. Even in the beginning, Kent is practically begging him to forgive Cordelia and realize that she loves him most and he doesn't want to hear anything of the sort.
At the end of the act, Goneril also treats him like a child in regards to his one hundred knights. It reminded me of a parent talking to a kid with too many toys who is constantly begging for more even though they don't play with the ones they already have. I have never seen this play performed, but in the text it almost seems like it's an immediate switch from content to infuriated in Lear. Moreover, Lear needs a time out for all his temper tantrums.

The Two Bodies

After last class’s discussion, and completing the “King Lear” reading questions for class, I began to think more about the idea of the “Two bodies of the King.” On one hand, King Lear possesses the physical traits of a king: the robe, the crown, the scepter. This side seems to represent the shallow and materialistic aspect of the throne, a temporary aspect, the aspect that Regan and Gonoril leech onto and thrive off of. On the other hand, is the divine/immaterial aspect of being a king, this side focusing more on the spirit of kingship, and the idea of divine right—being born to reign. This aspect is more eternal and perpetual, but also reflects Cordelia’s relationship with her father, a tie that focuses on honesty and modesty, as she will not tell her father she loves him, rather than the certain flamboyance that her sisters display when they profess their “love” for their father.
When I revisited this thought of “the two bodies of the king,” I couldn’t help but think how it reminded me of the idea of celebrity and the lifestyle of two bodies. Like Lear, on one hand a celebrity has the materialistic “physical” side, a side caught up in fame, money, and temporary things—the shell of a person. On the other hand, is the divine side—celebrities are human as well, and their souls are perpetual. With this in mind, like Lear, the divine side is often overlooked both by celebrities and by common people.

Turn Thy Wheel

In yet another story of a monarchy and control we can see the rise and fall action of characters. Society is ever fearful of regression. Progression in social ranking, finance, strength, all of these things are desirable and sought after traits. When weakness takes hold in the regression of old age it is seen as deplorable and rank. Lear, especially, is degraded for his old age because he is seen as being too young to age, meaning that he has not gained the wisdom that accompanies old age and merely regresses as a child. Childish traits are depicted in his rash rage and temper tantrums. This is especially apparent with his treatment of Cordelia and Kent, banishing and disowning them because they spoke that which he was not inclined to hear.
Fortuna's wheel has a large role in King Lear. It is frequently mentioned in reference to the falling and rising of characters. After his quarrel with Oswald, Kent speaks a line before falling asleep. He says, "Fortune, good night; smile once more; turn thy wheel" (2.2.165). Shortly after, when speaking to the fool, Kent is advised to "Let go thy hold when a great wheel runs down a hill, lest it break thy neck with following it; but when the great one that goesup the hill, let him draw thee after" (2.4.66-9). Here the fool, archetypal in his role, speaks wisdom under the guise of entertainment and insanity. Lear, having given up his throne before his death, has lost the voice of power and command. It is recognized in the beginning when Oswald refers to him as "my lady's father" (1.4.68) instead of King.
Kent's banishment and return in disguise is warranted as foolish, even to the fool. We shall see what trouble arises from this connection as the play progresses.
On another note, I absolutely loved the fool's speech in 3.2 where he prophesizes the ruin of England.

When priests are more in word than matter;
When brewers mar their malt with water;
When nobles are their tailor's tutors;
No heretics burn but wenches' suitors;
When every case in law is right...

He proposes that society not only craves chaos, but thrives on it both socially and economically. Not much has changed...must be human nature.

Edmund the "Iago" of King Lear

While reading Acts II and III of King Lear I found it hard to ignore the similarities between the character of Edmund of King Lear and the character Iago from Othello. Edmund has demonstrated that he is cunning and very willing to do whatever it takes for him to achieve his goal of inheriting his fathers land and title. To his father he seems to be the son that cares for him and is the most loyal when compared to Edgar. What Edmund's father doesn't know is that Edmund is putting on an act and is actually very clever in his plot to get rid of his brother and father.

In ACT II we witness Edmund pretend to help Edgar, while he is really just putting on a show to convince his father that Edgar is a traitor. Like Iago, Edmund is able to use one situation in order to be in the good graces of more then one person at a time. While pretending to help Edgar escape from Cornwall, Edmund was able to stage a scene that made it seem to his father that Edgar had tried to kill Edmund. This way Edgar thinks that his brother is helping him, while thier father is turned against Edgar. I'm interested to see where Edmund's schemes and plots are going to lead him. Will he be more successful then Iago who in the end met his demise or will he meet the same end? Being as Iago is my favorite Shakespeare villain I'm interested to see if Edmund takes Iago's spot as number one.

The Trade-off: Money In Exchange for Love

The part of King Lear that I find myself mentally returning to is the notion of Lear giving money and property to his daughters in exchange for their love. The more I consider this, I realize that it's not such a novel concept. People have been conducting these types of exchanges since the beginning of time; marriages used to center around gaining land and money for one's family, instead of being based on genuine love for another person. However, I never thought about this idea in the context of a family. It occurs to me that I can sort of understand Feinstein's incestuous take on the play in her play Lear's Daughters, because one typically thinks of exchanges of money for love only in the context of a marriage; here, it occurs between a father and his daughters. Another thought that comes to my mind is how immoral this trade-off is; clearly genuine love cannot actually be received simply by giving another person material goods.
As I was thinking all of this, I wondered if Lear's agreement with his daughters is really so different from typical parent-child relationships. Parents and their children have a similar, though unspoken, bond: they will clothe you, feed you, and give you shelter, and the underlying expectation is that you will appreciate them by showing them love and appreciation, and perhaps return the favor by taking care of them in their old age. Lear's request is basically the same thing - he asks simply to stay with them during the year. I see Lear's fatal flaw as having the need to question what is supposed to be an unspoken bond between parents and children. When he asks "Which of you shall we say doth love us most?" (Shakespeare 1.1.49), he is inviting false flattery from his children. I wonder if Goneril and Regan do not love him less than Cordelia, but love him the same: as a father. If so, they probably felt confused by Lear's questioning of their love, which leads to their misdeeds later on. Though the agreement between Lear and his daughters is only of many important elements in the play, the question keeps haunting me: when pressed, I wonder how many other sons and daughters would admit that they only love their parents as just that - as parents?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Women in King Lear

The characters and character development in King Lear are critical to examine because of the shocking cruelty and misunderstanding that many of the characters experience. I think there are a lot of important people in this play that need analyzing, but Lear’s three daughters are really the most necessary. In most Shakespearean plays, women are marginalized; used as tools for men attempting to better themselves politically. Shakespeare does not usually provide the audience with insight into the personalities of the women, and if he does, the roles are small. This play turns the tables entirely; it takes two strong women and gives them a lot of power and a lot of stage time. I think the role that their husbands play is also important- who has the power in the relationships? I wonder what Queen Elizabeth would have said about the portrayal of women and their untimely deaths in this play, especially since Cordelia, who was the good one, dies at the end of the play too.
Goneril and Regan are more than willing to say whatever their father wants to hear, but when it comes down to it, they don’t love or respect him very much at all. They take away his knights and unite against him to keep him out of their homes. They seem to be strongly bonded in their foulness, but Edmund quickly comes between them. Their fight for Edmund’s attention becomes so intense that Goneril actually kills her sister and herself. These women share the same blood and they are so quick to turn on each other, it’s appalling.
The way each sister interacts with her respective husband is insightful, too. Goneril and Albany fight in practically every scene they’re in together. Albany is sympathetic to Goneril’s father and Gloucester and when he tries to talk to his cold wife, they argue. Regan’s marriage seems to be on stronger ground, as she and her husband, Cornwall, are not only cruel but actually blind Gloucester together, cheering each other on as they go, but right after he dies, she goes running after Edmund. Cordelia, who is the kindest of the three sisters, marries the King of France, who respects her virtue from the beginning, and has the most honest of all the relationships.
I have to wonder about the way the women are woven into the last act of the play. Goneril kills her sister and then, for fear of facing Albany, kills herself. Cordelia gets killed because of Edmund’s lie, and Lear finally dies grieving for Cordelia. What message was Shakespeare sending to the audience and people reading the play? The women are strong, yes, but they are terrible people (Cordelia, although “good” never actually defends her father or stands up for what she deserves) with tragic fates. And what would Queen Elizabeth have said about the entire thing?

King Lear...

King Lear is by far the most interesting play we've read so far, because it deals with a King who willing gives up his land to his daughters. By giving up his land, the King is also giving up his title and status. Both concepts seem pretty strange considering we've learned in class so much about society and the rules both, written and unwritten, in Shakespeare's era.

What is most intriguing about this play, is the fact that the daughters of Lear have so much power. He makes an agreement with them that they can have his land if they tell him how much they love him. The second part of the contract was that the daughters must take care of him and his knights while he stays with them. Lear gives up his property and shortly after both daughters are rude and start arguments with their father. The reader gets the feeling that the daughters are already plotting against their father. Which is strange because they already have the land and are married, so why be mean to their father? How does being mean to him benefit them? Lear's daughters completely strip him of his land, his dignity and even his title. In later parts of the play we find out that the daughters do not even want to deal with their father and tell him that if he wants to stay with them he must limit or completely get ride of his knights. To top it all off, as it was mentioned in class, the play does not even give Lear the title of King Lear for his parts.

What surprises me the most is that Lear kept his end of the deal yet his daughters did not. We know from the reading that Lear has faithful followers and over one hundred knights. Why doesn't Lear take back his land? Why does Lear let his daughters walk all over him? Would Lear be able to take his land back? I do not remember reading that Lear and his daughters signed a written contract about the land. This also raises questions. Would he really just stop being King because he divided the land verbally? Doesn't not being king anymore have a ceremony like in Richard II? Would Shakespeare's audience believe any of this is realistic, especially since a group of women have complete control over the play at this point? I can't wait to see if any of these questions are answered in the next couple of acts!

The Truth Will Get You Nowhere

In Shakespeare’s play King Lear, the reader finds themselves discovering the deceit and cruelty which sons and daughters can force onto their fathers. Most of the play is focused on who is telling the truth, who really loves the other, and plotting behind each other’s backs. Surprisingly this does not just happen to one character or set of characters, but across the board and involves every character in the play.

First and foremost, there is the interaction between King Lear and his three daughters: Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia. The first two proclaim their love for their father by playing toward his prideful side and describing how wonderful he is. When it is Cordelia’s turn, Lear expects even better praise from her because she is his favorite, but she refuses to play his game and is disowned while her two sisters divide all the money and property between them with the clause that they must house their Father and his knights for a month, alternating between them both.

Meanwhile, there is also the feud of the illegitimate son Edmund and the legitimate son Edgar. So far, Edgar has not really done anything wrong except to be the rightful heir to his father’s, Gloucester’s, inheritance. Edmund is furious that because he is not legitimate, he cannot inherit. He decides to devise a plan that makes Edgar look like a murderer and villain so that their father chooses Edmund to inherit instead.

This play seems to ridicule the fake identities that most people show the world in order to gain something for themselves. Shakespeare seems to be saying that it is those that do not want to play that game, the ones that do not flatter, are really the ones that are most trustworthy. In both situations described above, those that benefit end up turning on the ones who gave it to them. Goneril and Regan first restrict their father, and then later want to kill him, while Edmund accuses Gloucester of helping the King escape (the first truth out of his mouth) in order to sentence his father to death and gain himself a title.

Even the servants get involved in this feud. Kent decides to take on a disguise after being banished in order to help his King, and Oswald stays true to his mistress Goneril. During an argument between these two in Act 2 Scene 2, Cornwall makes a very important speech which focuses in on the main point of the plot, “This is some fellow,/ Who, having been praised for bluntness, doth affect/ A saucy roughness and constrains the garb/ Quite from his nature. He cannot flatter, he,/ An honest mind and plain, he must speak truth!/ An they will take it, so; If not, he’s plain./ These kind of knaves I know, which in this plainness/ Harbor more craft and more corrupter ends/ Than twenty silly-ducking observant/ That stretch their duties nicely” (lines 89-98). Here, he is saying that because Kent is being so blunt and honest he must be telling lies.

Even though from the moment we can talk, we are taught to speak the truth and do good, here, those that speak the truth do not come out on top; those that lie, cheat, and steal come out the victor, the brave, and the wealthy.

(i don't know why whenever i drag the text from word it always messes up only parts of the font and spacing! grrr...)

Why does everybody trust Edmund?

As I read the very complicated Tragedy of King Lear a theme that emerges is the theme of legitimacy. According to the laws of inheritance, only legitimate offspring,usually the sons, can inherit property, land, money, etc. Edmund the illegitimate son of Gloucester realizes this and works on a plot to get around this law. Edmund creates a fake letter that implicates his legitimate brother in a murder plot of their father Gloucester. In the fake letter Edgar agrees to split the land, property, and money up with illegitimate Edmund. The letter states "If our father would sleep till I /waked him, you should enjoy half the revenue for ever and live/ the beloved of your brother Edgar"(Lear, 1.2, 50-52). I don't find this surprising that Edmund would devise this letter, but what I don't understand is why does Gloucester readily believe this letter. I do have a possible explanation for why Gloucester believes what he read but it is quite speculative. The fact that they receive a letter from Edgar suggests he does not live in the same town as Edmund and Gloucester. It appears to me that Gloucester seems to be closer to his illegitimate son Edmund than Edgar. I do not think Gloucester and Edgar necessarily have a bad relationship, but he doesn't seem like they interact with each other as much as Edmund and Gloucester do.

By the next act after Edmund makes it look like he and Edgar were in an altercation, Gloucester now believes Edmund 100% and decides to let him inherit. He states "loyal and natural boy, I'll work the means/ To make thee capable" (2.1, 85-86). Of course this is a very ironic statement since Edmund is not being loyal and is not Gloucester's natural boy. Again I question how does Gloucester not realize what is going on or at least be suspicious of Edmund. Gloucester knows the laws of inheritance and obviously Edmund is not allowed to inherit. This should be raising a red flag for Gloucester that something is not right with this situation. At this point Gloucester is blinded by what is going on around him.

Shakespeare continues to use irony by having Gloucester's eyes being removed and have him literally blinded. It was Gloucester's metaphorical blindness that lead to him being set up as a traitor and having his eyes removed. The ironic aspect of the situation is Gloucester after he is blinded realizes what was going on and what happened. He states "O my follies! Then Edgar was abused" (3.7, 94). Not to sound unsympathetic, but it was Gloucester's own fault for becoming literally blind. As I mentioned a few times how could you not be suspicious of Edmund given the circumstances. I don't understand why he trusted his illegitimate son so much against Edgar. The only explanation I gave is purely speculative and I would like a better explanation for trusting Edmund. Or is this just part of the plot set-up that Shakespeare expects his viewers and readers to simply accept. I have a tough time simply accepting things without explanations. Typical Shakespeare!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Lear's Daughters

Lear’s Daughters was certainly one of the most interesting plays I’ve seen. It was a little too “out-there” for me, but I could definitely appreciate the vision that the playwright had when it was originally written. I feel like this is something that would have been better directed as a traditional play, in the same vein as the rest of Shakespeare’s works, but that could be my own personal taste. For me, the play was overly morbid and dramatic, and at parts seemed to come off as a stereotype of bad theater. The actors did a fine job; the problem seemed to lie in the material.
Despite the problems I had with the play, I thought it was very interesting how Elain Finestein and the Women’s Theatre Group were able to create an extensive feminist play based off something written hundreds of years ago, and make it relevant in the modern world. Lear’s Daughters offered further hypothetical insight into characters that have been analyzed by Shakespearean scholars for centuries.

Having seen the play before reading King Lear, it was a little difficult to follow the plot, but now that we’re treating the original King Lear in class, things are starting to come together. It’s interesting to have the hypothetical background of Lear’s daughters in mind as we go through it; Cordelia’s actions make more sense with an actual sense of her relationship with her father as a child, and Goneril and Regan’s quickness to lie and cheat their father is given a possible explanation as well.

We see more competition between the sisters, and although the characterizations applied to them in Lear’s Daughters seems to be completely made up, it’s interesting to see them as more typified characters. Cordelia, for example, is shown to be a dancer, and Regan as a painter. It doesn’t add much to the plot, but it helps to visualize the characters as more than vengeful princesses.

One of the reasons Shakespeare is still read so much and analyzed by scholars throughout the world is because the characters are designed to have unexplored depth to them. The plays generally aren’t extensive enough to give a full background of the characters, aside from perhaps the tetralogy, so most of the analysis we make of the characters are from the limited material we are given, and lots of assumption; writing a prequel to a famous piece of literature would not work unless this were the case. The extensive exposition that they added to the characters certainly doesn’t rewrite King Lear, and it will obviously not be considered canonical with how radically different the play is performed when compared to Shakespeare’s typical work. However, the play gives some interesting insight into the characters, and some points to think about while reading the original King Lear.

Lear's Daughters=Interesting...

I found this performance of "Lear's Daughters" to be quite interesting, especially the way it was written. I did like the fact that each daughter identified themselves with an object in the beginning that lead to a description of their overall characters. From what I can remember about Shakespeare's play, I do think Cordelia was sort of played down in a sense here, in the fact that this play portrayed her as if she were being so loyal to her father just because she was the favorite. I don't think that worked particularly well. I actually quite liked the fool, while I know that others didn't. The scenes I thought were most interesting were the ones in which the fool spoke for King Lear and the sick mother. I'm not quite sure I've exactly figured out yet what that was supposed to signify because it sort of threw me. King Lear was definitely a fearful, creepy character, especially since he was sitting right in front of me laughing for most of the performance. I don't remember much about "King Lear", but I'm pretty sure he's not supposed to be that scary. The parts I didn't enjoy were the abortion scene, although the screaming was very believable, and the pseudo-spoken word screaming scenes. I was trying to focus in but I just found it to be obnoxious banter after a while. I highly commend the actors because I think that it was actually a difficult play to perform and they did it extremely well, but overall I didn't find the play itself very satisfying.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Lear's Daughters

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect upon entering the theater on Sunday night to see “Lear’s Daughters;” I have never read Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” nor have I ever been to a production on campus before. Though I have seen many Broadway productions, and Shakespeare adaptations before, there was a certain curiosity that was piqued upon entering the theater. Much to my belief, I was shocked, entertained, and confused by much of this performance of the Elaine Feinstein play. To be honest, I was a little scared by the actor playing the fool and his interaction with the audience. At the beginning, I was a little overwhelmed by this androgynous character, who I felt at times was a bit jarring, but towards the end I began to find his character more so provocative, than grating. I thought the performances of the daughters, Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia, were really great and I liked how the actresses defined each character as their own separate entity. I felt like each actress had a feel for, and understanding of each daughter, and it was very apparent in watching. I also thought the actress playing the Nanny did a great job. Although the actor playing King Lear barely spoke, I felt that his looming presence throughout the play definitely helped to evoke the sense of the monstrosities that he inflicted upon his daughters, both physically and emotionally. Towards the end of the play, I felt like things were finally making sense, and I feel that if I were to see it again I may have a better understanding, and not feel so confused. All and all, I thought it was interesting, but I am more interested in reading Shakespeare’s “King Lear” to fill in the missing pieces.

Lear's Daughters Was a Travesty

I typically like to see strict interpretation of Shakespeare because I feel that he knew what he was doing, and there's a reason that he made it the way he did. There are certain elements that are up to the director, and plenty of room for personal taste, but I think the interpretation offered by Lear's Daughters was offensive and wrong. I don't think it's a matter of me not liking something because it is controversial; some of my favorite forms of entertainment are controversial, whether it's South Park, Bruno, or something similar I like works that push the boundaries, but what I don't like are things that try to be controversial just for the sake of being controversial, with no apparent end in sight. I do not have a problem with whoever acted in the play; the actors were just playing a part. I have a problem with whoever wrote the play.
Imagine this: An actress is lying on a movable stair platform. In front of her is another figure, that of a nurse. The nurse gives her something to drink, after which the lady on the stairs claims that she has been poisoned. The stage goes dark. You can see the actress on the stairs gripping onto the railing, and for the next couple minutes she just starts screaming her head off (meanwhile I'm in the audience trying my hardest not to "roflmao hahahaha" but in some respects I'm being unsuccessful and am snickering rudely while my friend is looking at me wondering what the hell is going on). The screaming intensifies (I'm losing it in the audience, I'm really losing it, but I try not to laugh audibly, but at this point I can feel tears start to come down my face I'm laughing so hard, my whole body shaking, but I remain silent, just barely). I'm thinking how ridiculous this is that they're staging an abortion on stage, and I'm horrified that I think they've insinuated that it's the incestuous child of Lear and his daughter. Finally the screaming stops. I dry my eyes. The nurse says, "It would have been a boy", and the whole feminist propaganda of the play becomes blatant. I want to walk out, but I need the extra credit so I stay. I can't decide what's worse, the smearing of Shakespeare, or the feminist propaganda. I'm left wanting a refund even though it was free. I'll never get that hour back.
I refuse to accept this play as Act 0 to Shakespeare. I think that's insulting to Shakespeare. I think Shakespeare would be offended that King Lear is portrayed as an incestuous pedophile, that one of the daughters has an abortion, and just generally with the entire production. I realize that I'm being a bit harsh, and that people worked very hard on this, but I did not find fault with the acting, the directing or any element that these people worked on. I find fault with the writing. There's just no dancing around that this play is a travesty because of its writing. I think the actors performed their parts well, and to the best of their abilities, but no amount of acting would save this play. The only thing that would make this play better would be if it were entirely different, and not about what it is about at all. That's my opinion, feel free to disagree.

Not all politics change over the years

Is the king really like any other man? It's hard to tell if Henry believes that or if he's just being charismatic once more. It seems ludicrous to compare someone who was brought up to be the ruler of the country to a subject. There is simply a different lifestyle and mindset. Sure, the king is human like everyone else, but he is still inherently different in an entire view of the world.

Prince Hal really isn't different, despite his attempts to claim and behave otherwise. Certainly, there is a difference between Henry V and most kings, as his father inherited the thrown by force, and as a prince he chose to spend his days in the tavern with "the people"- if by "the people", he means thieves and lowlifes. I suppose that has served as an advantage to him. However, can you really compare him to those people? Sure, he took part in their doings, but even then it was part of a greater plan that involved his future leadership. He was never the same as they.

If anything, for all the complaints Henry IV makes in the last play about how his son is a disappointment to him, both Henry's are quite a bit alike. They are both charismatic and scheming. In Richard II, Bolingbrook seemed to have a similar style of politics by making himself appealing to the subjects. Yes, they executed this in different ways, Bolingbrook being more of the traditional baby kissing politician, and Hal being more blatantly scheming, spending time with the lowest of the low whom he probably knew he would be destroying later. Yes, I do think that the movie gives him a little too much credit. Reading the play, I really do have a hard time envisioning King Henry V crying because he's hanging someone he never respected in the first place (not to mention that that's not actually how hangings were done- - - but I digress).

So what is it that makes Henry V a more successful king than Henry IV? Is hanging out with drunken tavern thieves really enough to make you a good leader? Well, I don't know about that, but the fact that he would actually spend time with these people, as opposed to just smooth talking them, did give him the advantage of understanding their psyche. What do they want to hear? They want to hear that the king is no different than they are. Let's face it: that's just true in politics. How many times in presidential and congressional elections do you hear supporters of a candidate say "He's a regular guy, and not just another politician", when we all know damn well that that isn't true? Moreover, charisma that Bolingbrook had in Richard II didn't carry over to Henry IV. It seemed like something about him died after he "accidentally" had Richard II killed.

It seems to me that the reasons Henry V was a good leader are the same reasons I wouldn't want him to be my friend. Or, at the very least, I wouldn't want to go drinking with him.

Midterm blog

As I have seen a couple of other people saying, I too have been having some trouble with the blogging portion of this class. I have never had to do an assignment like this before, and even though it has now been most of a semester it is simply not something it occurs to me to do. Hence the reason my midterm blog is so late: I never even thought to check whether I had such a blog due.

That being said, it has been an interesting experience for me. It has been kind of fun to know what other people thought of the plays we've been reading, and has given me some ideas of my own which I would not have thought of otherwise. Having people write out their thoughts in this kind of situation, and making others respond to those thoughts, provides an extension of the in-class discussions which is not so constrained by time. So, while I have been having some trouble remembering to keep up with the assignment, when I DO remember it's quite interesting for me.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Does anyone else have mirror image pages with a slight change in the right page from the left? Is it supposed to be like this? Has exhaustion run me ragged? Okay, 2 different editions, in case anyone else was pinching themselves in confusion.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Saint Crispin's Day

Similarly to many other members of class, as mentioned today and Friday, I was also very inspired by Henry V’s “Saint Crispin’s Day” speech at IV.3.18-67. I was inspired simply by reading the words on the page but viewing Kenneth Branagh’s film version furthered that feeling so I decided to explore other versions of the speech and see how they compare.

Here is a clip of the speech from1989 film edition of Henry V, directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh:

Another clip of the speech from the 1944 film edition likewise directed by and starring Laurence Olivier (skip to approximately 87 minutes in):

The third clip comes from a British televised version of Henry V, directed in 1979 by David Giles and starring David Gwillim as the title character (skip to 102 minutes, 50 seconds in):

The most obvious similarities, I believe, lie between the Branagh and Olivier versions of the film. The two actors both star in and direct their films and the blocking, or movement, of Act IV Scene 3 in both versions is very similar. One obvious difference between the two is Branagh’s use of a score, composed by Patrick Doyle, throughout the speech while Olivier’s score cuts off just as Henry begins his speech. Although both deliveries are very rousing, I feel that the use of music adds a heightened sense of excitement to the speech. Similar to Olivier’s adaptation, Giles chooses not to use a score in his Henry V and, unlike both Olivier and Branagh’s versions, the soldiers of England make no celebration nor any kind of cheering after Gwillim finishes delivering the speech. Gwillim’s rendition of Henry V also differs from Branagh and Olivier, in that he delivers the speech in somewhat of a playful manner, while the other two actors tones remain serious throughout.

A vast difference occurs between the two film versions of Henry V in the message that the two stars/directors attempt to deliver. Released in 1944, during World War II, Olivier’s version puts an emphasis on patriotism and was meant to act as propaganda to boost the morale of British troops; it’s release coincided with D-Day, or the invasion of Normandy by the Ally forces. Branagh’s version, on the other hand, places more emphasis on the horrors of war. Although I could not find an on-line video version, I read about an interesting contemporary version of Henry V released by the Royal National Theatre in 2003 that portrays modern warfare and criticizes the war in Iraq.